Monday, February 26, 2024

Built Up in the Fullness of Jesus Christ

"In March of 1981, President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley, Jr., and was hospitalized for several weeks. Although Reagan was the nation's chief executive, his hospitalization had little impact on the nation's activity. Government continued on. On the other hand, suppose the garbage collectors in this country went on strike. It happened last year in Paris for a while. That city was not only in a literal mess, the pile of decaying trash quickly became a health hazard. A three-week nationwide strike would paralyze the country. Who is more important--the President or a garbage collector? In the body of Christ, seemingly insignificant ones are urgently needed. As Paul reminds us, "The head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable" (I Cor. 12:21-22). -David Parsons.

Whether it’s president, political leader, pastor, church greeter, garbage collector, the body of Christ needs every member. You matter. You are important. And that’s why it’s so important we grow in Christ, and seek maturity in Christ.

The Apostle Paul challenges us, just as he challenged the church in Ephesus two thousand years ago, to walk in a manner worth of the calling we’ve received.

He writes, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” 
-Ephesians 4:1

Each of us have been called to be Christians, followers of Jesus, to be pure and blameless in a wicked world, to be love in a time of coldness, to speak truth when lies reign everywhere, and to care about others when most only care about themselves.

The calling is high, to Jesus. Paul tells us to live our lives in a way that matches the heights of what we’ve been called to.

We’re immediately instructed on what that looks like. We’re considering the theme of building a house today. The house is you. And we’re going to see the bricks and pieces we want to include to make sure this house is a success.

In verses 2-3, "...with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

First, we’re told living worthy to our calling looks like humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, and eager to maintain unity.

Humility is thinking highly of others and thinking of ourselves soberly. Gentleness is not being too loud, not being too intense, not being too overbearing, but gentle. Patience is being good at waiting. Even in traffic. Bearing with one another is making room for people’s faults. Notice unity as well that’s going to come up again here. Unity among believers is hugely important to God. No divisions. Complete unity. Not partial unity, but total unity.

Immediately the Lord points us to unity, in verses 4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

If this house we’re building is like a brick, it fits in with all the other members of the body of Christ, in a larger house, which is the body of Christ, the church as a group. What unites the body? The fact that the Lord is over us all, through us all, and in us all.

All of these other character traits, humility, gentleness, bearing up, are going to help us to solidify into the bonds of unity in the larger collective.

Next Paul turns back to the individual believer, and speaks of Christ’s gift.

In verses 7-10 it says, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)”

In other words, the foundation of this whole structure is Christ’s grace. Along with that grace, Christ gave us gifts. Spiritual gifts, like faith, showing mercy, prophecy, giving, administration, and on the list goes.

Not only did Jesus give us His grace, and spiritual giftings for the blessing of the body, he also gave us leaders in the body of Christ.

This is what we call the five-fold ministry. It says in Ephesians 4:11-12, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

So if the house structure we’re building is you, one believer, the various leaders in the church are given by Jesus, to build you up in various ways. An apostle can minister to you in various ways, they are pioneers, church planters, missionary types. They blaze new trails, try new things and build up the church.

Prophets speak a hard truth. They may speak a word over you, give you a word for your life that’s specific to you, from God. They call us away from sin. They mourn the evils in the world. The evangelist is one who is often out on the streets ministering to people who don’t know Jesus yet. The shepherd is the pastor, the counselor, someone who guides Christians to grow in Christ. And teachers are experts in explaining the Bible, explaining the meaning of truths in scripture, and is good at leading a small group or bible study.

Each of these five areas of ministry are meant to do one thing: Build up the body of believers. Christ is the chief builder, but through the five fold Christ builds up this house, which is you.

Here next in verse 13 we really see the end goal of this whole thing, it says this Ephesians 4:13, “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”

We see further growth again is exemplified by unity of the faith, more complete knowledge of the son of God, all culminating in maturity.

And again in verse 14, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

The contrast is between being children in Christ, to being mature, it says mature manhood. So, having grown up in Christ, we come to a point where we are no longer children, but mature, and no longer tossed to and fro by the ways of controversy and human deceit.

I recall a time in my life when I was younger as a Christian and I was very much tossed to and fro, first I would listen to prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen, then I was listening to Calvinists online, then I’m talking with Jehovah Witnesses, then I was taking a Christian basics course online, and I was just all over the place. Slowly over time, as I studied and learned, I found growth toward maturity.

All of this is building up toward a place of maturity in Christ where we have a sense of stability and discernment. We aren’t thrown back and forth anymore. We aren’t torn in different directions. We have a stability from knowing God’s word. And we have a discernment to test what is true and what is false.

Lastly it says in verses 15-16, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” -Ephesians 4:15-16

“Speaking the truth in love” I think implies the level of maturity Paul is talking about here. I’ve seen unstable Christians before and they usually fall into two camps, first you have those who speak the truth without love. They are so focused on doctrine that they don’t have much love. They want to fight off false doctrines. But they just come off as mean and loveless. It’s unstable, it lacks biblical love. Second camp is the ones who speak in love, but don’t have truth. They are so focused on being loving, being kind, being nice, that they simply affirm whatever someone says. They don’t speak truth. They compromise God’s word. They just want everyone to feel great, feel accepted, feel good. But by so doing, they are unstable, they lack truth, and love without truth is deceptive and empty.

So, speaking the truth in love we’re to grow up into Him who is the head, and that was mentioned in verse 13, it said to reach the stature of the fullness of Jesus Christ. In other words, come into a place of maturity that is marked by spiritual fullness in Jesus Christ. To be truly filled with Jesus completely.

But, this picture of a house full and mature in Christ is a single believer. So, when each part is working properly, working together, united in Christ, connected and held together by Christ, then the body functions correctly, the church functions correctly, and we’re all like a brick in the wall, of the larger building, which is the church worldwide.

Or, like a collection of many houses together, like a city, you might say. And each house represents a person in the city who serves some function to make the city function, whether it’s a teacher, a painter, an electrician, a clerk, driver, musician, artist, plumber, jeweler, construction, day car worker, waitress, politician, lawyer, and so on. We each have a particular part to play in the body of Christ, each a unique role to fulfill. It all fits together. And if each member is serving with their gifts, the body works well, and grows and prospers. If they do not work well together, and fight each other, the body doesn’t grow properly.

So, for each of us today, we should make it our goal to come into maturity in Jesus Christ, growing in Christ, and then using our gifts and talents to build up the body.

Let’s Review…

1. Live up to your call – Grow into Christ

2. Grow in Humility, Gentleness, Patience, Bearing with one another, Unity, and the bonds of Peace

3. This is accomplished through the gift of Christ’s grace

4. Christ has also given us spiritual gifts to use to help each other

5. Christ also gave us the five-fold ministry to build us up

6. Grow in the Knowledge of Jesus / Unity of the Faith

7. Then we will find Stability and Discernment to avoid false doctrine

8. Speak the truth in love, avoid missing either love or truth

9. All of this will lead us to Spiritual Fullness in Christ - maturity

10. In maturity we can serve in our place in the body of Christ faithfully and successfully

Remember brothers and sisters you are part of a family of believers. You are called to unity. Your place in this group worldwide is very important. Your place matters. You can make a difference. You have a role to play in this body. If you can grow in Christ, you can serve effectively in this body, and play your part in the great body of Jesus Christ worldwide.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Trusting God through Suffering: Accept the Pain and Move Forward

“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness.” -Malcolm Muggeridge, in Homemade, July, 1990.

As much as I don’t want to agree with Muggeridge I’m afraid that I do. When I look back on my life, even the last two years, I’m greatly satisfied by painful experiences I went through that taught me great lessons. Particularly times when I went through suffering patiently under God’s care.

I think of three experiences, first, in 2020 I was actually banned from preaching for a time, because of a sermon I preached on a sensitive issue. I was bold. I spoke what God told me to speak. I remember when I wrote the sermon, hot button issue, I got on my knees and asked God, should I remove anything from this sermon? I still remember what God said, “Not a word.” Somehow I knew something was going to happen. So I had to be sure. And God made it clear, speak all of it.

It was a time of great pressure and strain in my life. I was concerned, afraid, disturbed. But God was at work. God protected me. God helped me. And soon, my freedom to preach was restored.

I look back on that no longer with pain, but with gratitude, because I learned so much through all of it. And God helped me bear the suffering with grace.

Second, I remember when I had Covid, also in 2020. I was brutally sick. And you probably remember, at the same time I was brutally sick, I was also overcome with severe crippling anxiety. It was something very odd about COVID, it brought on bad anxiety.

I remember day by day, sleeping all day, and being so anxious I could barely stand existing in the moment. But God got me through. I recall the only relief I could get, I would wrap myself in a blanket and go sit on the front porch and talk on the phone, and that somehow helped me to calm down.

Again, I look back gratefully, because I made it through the suffering and learned so much about myself and the world during that time.

Thirdly, I recall a time when controversy broke out at this church with certain leaders, who I was close with. And several people left the church over the division. It was devastating for me. I was so stressed and upset during that time. But again, I recall how God brought me safely through the fire. And it was during that time of severe pain and confusion that God brought Chelsey into my life.

Let’s take a look at a quote from Jeanne Guyon’s book on this issue of suffering:

“You must be patient in all the suffering that God sends you. If your love for the Lord is pure, you will love Him as much on Calvary as on Mt. Tabor. The Lord Jesus loved His Father on Mt. Tabor where He was transfigured, but He loved Him no less on Calvary where He was crucified. Surely, then, you should love the Lord as much on Calvary, for it was there that He made the greatest display of His love.” -Jeanne Guyon, chapter 7

There are two situations where I see Christians that are very common. There are others, but these two are quite common.

First, a Christian who is on cloud 9. They are riding the wave. They are excited. They are on fire for Jesus. Life is good. They feel joyous. Their faith is burning brightly. And they are on top of the world.

Nothing wrong with this first area. It’s a great place to be as a Christian. It’s the mount Tabor experience. Jesus is at the heights of his ministry. He’s changing people’s lives. He’s preaching the truth and healing people. He shines brightly on mount tabor. You will have times and seasons like that.

Second scenario, a Christian who is on the rocks. They are struggling. They are going through something that hurts bad. They feel exhausted. They are tired. They are stressed and seeing red. They can barely stand their situation. And it’s hard.

But, I see Christians here even in a sort of grace. They’ve accepted the situation as from God. And they are walking with Him in it. Then again, I see Christians who are in suffering and they are having a hard time accepting it, they are wrestling in it. And it’s not as pretty. But they make it through as well, as they cling to Him.

So how can we learn to bear suffering more wisely? We’re seeing that times we suffer are actually very helpful and we learn a lot in those times. We know it will happen. Pain is inevitable. Is there a way to handle it better?

Here’s what Jeanne Guyon says…

“As soon as anything comes to you in the form of suffering, at that very moment a natural resistance will well up somewhere inside you. When that moment comes, immediately resign yourself to God. Accept the matter. In that moment give yourself up to Him as a sacrifice.” -Jeanne Guyon, chapter 7

As you find yourself facing some difficulty, simply offer yourself to God in that moment. God I accept this suffering as from you. Unless it’s something that isn’t from him, I suppose.

Give yourself up, accept the suffering as from God, and allow it to simply be there for it’s time. And it’s only a time. As the word of God says…

1 Peter 5:10 ESV “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

Suffering only lasts so long. Then God brings you through it, out of it, and he restores you, confirms you, strengthens and establishes you.

Psalm 34:19 ESV “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

We will face many difficulties as Christians, but God delivers us from them all.

And Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 ESV

Take heart, take heart, and take heart again. Have peace. Don’t give up. You will get through this. And a time will come when the suffering will end. God will bring healing. And in paradise, we will suffer no more. There will only be joy.

At times you may bear the suffering well. You carry your cross with strength, but there will be other times when you carry your cross in weakness.

As Jeanne Guyon said…“Sometimes you may bear the cross in weakness; at other times you may bear the cross in strength. But whether you bear it in weakness or in strength, bear it! Both weakness and strength should be the same to us since we bear the cross in the will of God.” -Jeanne Guyon, chapter 7

I know there have been times that I suffered gracefully. Other times it was ugly, like an ugly, bitter cry in a corner somewhere. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Sure it’s good to bear it in strength, but at times it will be in weakness. That’s ok. Ugly cry it out. Just don’t give up. Keep going.

We know one day, Jesus will wipe away every tear, and heal every hurt. One day we will go from groping toward God in the darkness, in this life, to the next life, night to day, where we will see Jesus face to face. And that will change everything.

Revelation 21:4 ESV, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Until then, let’s continue to deal with suffering with grace, accepting it as from God, allowing it to do it’s work in us, and learning the lesson from it, to grow in grace, come into healing, and bear up under suffering as we carry out crosses toward heaven.

Also understand that suffering has an expiration date if you’re a Christian. But, if you are not a Christian, suffering in this life is only the beginning. In hell, suffering is permanent. Right now we suffer, but there is a hope beyond the suffering. For the person in hell, suffering is permanent, and it only promises to get worse over time. There is no hope at all. That’s truth.

So allow Jesus to be your savior, and you can know, suffering is temporary and joy awaits you in heaven.

Let’s Review our Main Points from Today:

1. Suffering is necessary in life to learn the deepest truths about ourselves and the world and God

2. When you’re in the joy of the Lord and everything is great, praise God

3. When you’re broken and suffering, and everything seems wrong, praise God

4. When going through suffering, accept it as from God, and offer yourself to God as a living sacrifice

5. Suffering always has an expiration date, give it time, and God will deliver you

6. Accept that sometimes you’ll suffer in strength, other times you’ll suffer in weakness, just don’t give up!

7. Believe that one day, in paradise, all suffering will be gone, and joy will be permanent. (While in hell, suffering is permanent and joy is impossible)

Monday, February 19, 2024

Abandon Yourself Entirely to God: Examining the Concept of Surrendering to God's Will

Abandon yourself to God. 

What does it mean exactly? When we become a follower of Jesus, we are renouncing, or throwing off our old ways of life. And we’re choosing a new way of life. A life which is now fundamentally under the command and control of God Almighty.

We abandon ourselves to God. We surrender control of our lives to Him in a very practical way.

Madam Guyon said it like this, “You must come to the Lord and there engage in giving up all your concerns. All your concerns go into the hand of God. You forget yourself, and from that moment on you think only of Him.”

Now I know what many of you are thinking, can someone really do that? Is that possible? Yes honestly, we can do that.

It’s simply doing it. Instead of sitting and worrying about it and wondering if it’s possible, it’s sitting down in prayer and asking God to make it happen.

Prayer: "Lord, we give all our worries and concerns to you. We put our lives in your hands. We forget ourselves, and we focus only on You. In Jesus name, amen."

As with so many aspects of the Christian life, it’s a little miracle that it really happens, because in ourselves we could never abandon ourselves to God.

But it is quite possible.

As Jeanne Guyon said, “Be careful; do not listen to the voice of your natural reasoning. You can expect just such reasoning to well up within you. Nonetheless, you must believe that you can abandon yourself utterly to the Lord for all your lifetime and that He will give you the grace to remain there! You must trust in God, "hoping against hope? (Romans 4:18)”

The scriptures give a good word about this, from Psalm 46:10 ESV “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Be still, and know that God is God and let him be in control.

Another powerful scripture about letting God run our lives is this one from Proverbs…

Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."

Here is another powerful statement from Madam Guyon about abandonment to God, “What is abandonment? It is forgetting your past; it is leaving the future in His hands; it is devoting the present fully and completely to your Lord. Abandonment is being satisfied with the present moment, no matter what that moment contains. You are satisfied because you know that whatever that moment has, it contains—in that instant—God's eternal plan for you.”

Let's break it down... 

1. It’s forgetting your past, leaving behind old patterns

2. It’s trusting God for the future

3. It’s allowing God to be in charge in the present

4. It’s been satisfied with God’s will in the moment, that’s it’s just right

5. It’s trusting that in this moment what’s going on is God’s perfect will

This is linked with a concept in the scriptures called humbling ourselves before God. It’s a good reminder to pray a lot, pray on our knees, and submit to Him completely.

As it says in 1st Peter 5:5-7, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." -1st Peter 5:5b-7

I know this can seem difficult to abandon ourselves to God, to give everything over, but there are many benefits. We don’t have to be afraid. We aren’t in charge. God is.

I remember when COVID hit in 2020, and everyone became frantically afraid. And I had to ask myself, wait Justin, whose in control? Is it you? Or is it God? I knew God was in control. So I abandoned myself to Him. And I wasn’t near as afraid anymore. I could rest in His protection and know that whatever happened, it would be ok. Even if I died, I would be ok. 

It’s freedom from fear to trust in God. We can cast all our anxieties on Him, and he cares for us, and removes our worries.

It reminds me of recovery groups. The first three steps of the 12 steps say: First, we surrender and admit that our lives have become unmanageable.

Second, we come to believe that God can restore us to sanity

Third, we turned our will and our lives over to the care of God.

This concept of surrender and coming to believe and turning ourselves over to God is biblical. It reminds me of Luke 9:23-24…

Luke 9:23-24 ESV And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

And again in Matthew 7:1 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

It’s not enough to simply call Jesus Lord, we really have to abandon ourselves to Him, deny ourselves, deny our old pattern of life, and embrace the new pattern of carrying our cross with Jesus. Otherwise there’s no hope. We have to give it all over!

But I know what you’re probably thinking, if I completely abandon myself to God, can I really trust that he will care for me? The answer is absolutely yes. God will do exactly what is right. It won’t always be easy. It won’t always be perfect or fun. But it will be 100% right. It will be His will for your life. And we can trust that His will is 100% right.

Would God forget us or forsake us or fail to keep His promises? Not a chance.

As it says in Isaiah 49:15-16 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.”

It gives the picture of God being so close that he is a watching over our defenses. He is guarding us carefully. He is always watching, all around us. He’s written our name on His hands.

I want to share one final quote from Madam Guyon, all these quotes are from chapter 6 of Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ.

She writes, “Surrender yourself to allow Him to do with you exactly as He pleases—both in your inward life of experiencing Him and also in your outward life of accepting all circumstances as from Him.”

So in conclusion today, let’s remember it like this, we want to surrender in two main ways, one, we want to surrender ourselves to God within ourselves, in our journey of experiencing Him in relationship. Simply let him do whatever He pleases inside of us.

Secondly, we want to accept all circumstances in our lives as from Him (that are not the fault of our mistakes). If we make a bad decision that may not be from God. But in general we should accept outward circumstances in our lives as from Him. And accept things as they are.

To Review, Our Main Points are as follows:

1. Believe that you really can abandon yourself to God completely (it is possible through God’s power)

2. Forget the past, trust God for the future, and entirely embrace what God has for you today as coming from Him

3. Abandoning ourselves to God means freedom from fear and control

4. Deny old patterns of thinking, take up your cross, and follow the way of Jesus

5. We can trust that if we do abandon ourselves to God, God will care for us a good Father

6. Surrender yourself to Him within and allow God to whatever He pleases in changing you from within

7. Surrender your external life to Him, and let Him lead you wherever He wants, accepting circumstances as from Him

Eternity Written in the Human Heart: Where is Home in a Fallen World?

My fiancé and I went to see The Chosen in theaters this weekend, season four, episodes 4-6. And we really enjoyed it. It was very powerful. Particularly I really enjoyed episode 4. You have Jesus seeing the faith the centurion who doesn’t even need Jesus to come to his house to heal his son, he simply believes that Jesus will do it, and Jesus is amazed by his faith. He is excited. But suddenly, his own disciples disappoint him greatly, james and john ask to sit at his right and left. And it's just exhausting for Jesus. He leaves the area and goes and prays. And I just felt the power of that moment. That we groan in this life with the problems and difficulties.

Sometimes as Christians we feel as though we’re caught between heaven and Earth. We long to be in heaven with God. We long to escape the flesh, to be free from the evils of this world. Yet we know we have a job, a duty to minister to this world and be salt and light to the world. But it’s tough. We long for something greater.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, "I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter." -C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, pg. 3

Ecclesiastes says he has set eternity in the human heart. There is a piece of eternity within us, and we long for something more.

We long for a place we’ve never been. Our hearts ache for eternity. We’re going to talk about that tension between heaven and earth in the Christian life today.

We’re looking today at 2nd Corinthians chapter 5, verses 1-10. Our structure of faith today is an hour glass shape, the bottom represents our life on Earth, the top portion represents our future in heaven.

It says in 2nd Cor 5:1, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”

I believe Paul is referring to earthly tent here, as our physical bodies, but some translations, like the KJV render it as earthly house. But again it’s most likely the same thing, your body, housing your soul.

One day every person in here will pass away, our earthly tent will be destroyed. But we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, so a new heavenly body, that does not age like this body does. It’s not built by human hands. Our earthly bodies grew from our mother’s body, right? But the heavenly body is created by God.

Verse 2-3 says, “Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.”

Yet while we live in this earthly body, our flesh on Earth, we do groan. We sigh. We long for something better. We long for something new. We long to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.

It gives us this picture then of being clothed vs being found naked. In Christ, while in the flesh, we often wonder, am I properly clothed, am I living the Christian life correctly? We wonder if we’re really saved. We battle against sin. So we are concerned with staying clothed in Christ, and not being found naked.

But when we die, and go to heaven, the uncertainty is over, the spiritual battles are over, and we’re safe. In the flesh, we remain in a sense, guarding against sins and evil, but in heaven, the time of guarding is over. We won’t be found naked then, but clothed.

Next, “4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

Right now my brothers and sisters we are burdened. We deal with physical health issues, mental health issues, addictions, and temptation, we are burdened, lightly, with the troubles of this world. We groan. The 1828 dictionary calls it uttering a mournful voice in pain or sorrow.

Can you relate? We can all relate. That’s why we’re being told by Paul, this is the current state of things. But it is temporary. It’s like an hour glass, our lives, slowly the sand is draining, and one day we will be with Jesus.

It’s fascinating an unbeliever dreads the day of their death, they do anything they can to escape it. They won’t even dare think about it. For the Christian we are excited for the day when we’ll be with Jesus face to face. We long for the day when we’ll pass from this temporary flesh to our eternal dwelling.

Next in verse 5, “5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

We talk about the uncertainty of life in the flesh, and wrestling with God, wrestling with our prayer life, trying to keep focused on Jesus, yet we also see an assurance here, that if we have the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is this deposit, a guarantee of what is to come. The Holy Spirit will witness to me, when I’m wrestling, “Yes you’re safe and secure. Be at peace.” Or the Holy Spirit will also witness to me, you’re in sin, go to your Father, and seek His help toward forgiveness and repentance.” And then I do that.

We have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is like our link to the heavenly world. He glows brightly within us, telling us of God and Jesus and heaven and judgment and the world to come.

Verse 6, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.”

Living in the flesh in the pain and sorrows of Earth is a breeding ground for uncertainty, confusion, and doubt. But God counters that by telling us, “you can always be confident.”

Know that you are currently away from the Lord. You are not in his direct presence. We are still in the earthly realm.

“For we live by faith, not by sight.” -2 Cor 5:7

On Earth we live in faith. In heaven we will live by sight. We will literally see God. We will literally see Jesus. We will see angels. We will see it all. Right now it’s different. Right now we trust, though we can’t see. We believe and know it is in fact true.

Notice the dividing line. The bottom portion of the hour glass represents Earth, the top represents heaven. These worlds are vastly different. Yet we’re linked to heaven through Jesus Christ.

Next, 2 Cor 5:8-9: “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”

Second time he says, “we are confident.” We are confident in what we believe.

Next he writes, that yes we would prefer to be away from the body, in heaven, right now. My preference: Be there. So Paul makes this argument, since you want to be in heaven, therefore make it your goal to please Him.

So our goal in the flesh, is this: Please God. Whether we’re in the body or not, always, heaven or Earth, the goal is to please God. Live by God’s leading. Love God’s son Jesus. Walk in relationship with God. All those things are pleasing to Him.

Then lastly in verse 10, ““For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

Our goal is to please God, because, we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. All our deeds, every word we spoke will be brought into judgment at the gateway between the bottom and top parts of the hourglass. The gateway entry point, is the judgment seat of Christ.

Those we have lived by faith in Jesus Christ, and lived holy as He is holy will be rewarded, and welcomed into the eternal kingdom. Those who have rejected Christ, denied Christ, or have made a practice of lawlessness, will face judgment and condemnation.

The judgment seat of Christ is a great reminder that the next life isn’t automatic. I read a quote recently from the late R.C. Sproul that the world thinks the only requirement for heaven is to die, that everyone goes to a better place. But that isn’t true. Only those who have Jesus Christ as savior, and have repented of their sins, will have eternal life. There is a heaven, there is also a hell. And it’s perfectly just. God is just. The judgment seat will be entirely just. We’ll know it’s right, when we go there. Each of us will, either to be rewarded, or condemned.

Let’s review our main points from today:

1. Your earthly body is temporary, your heavenly body will live forever

2. We are clothed in Christ, but we want to avoid being found naked (keep your garment on)

3. Groaning and burdens in the flesh are to be expected

4. We have the Holy Spirit connecting us to heaven now

5. We are always confident that God is with us

6. We live by faith today, next life by sight

7. Our preference is to be with God in heaven

8. Our Goal is to Please God on Earth

9. We all must pass through the gateway of the judgment seat of Christ

10. The New Heavens and New Earth are real home

Point number 10 I think is key here. Where is home, really? I think about the house where I grew up on Ross avenue in Wisconsin. I miss it, sure. But it wasn’t really home. My grandmas kitchen, home? My other grandmas garden, home? My house here in Owosso? None of it quite feels like home. We get hints of it. We get a taste of it. But we’re always groaning in the flesh, in this life, for something greater. For something better. We’re longing for home. Home isn’t here. We get hints of it. But our real home, the place that will truly feel like home, because it is home, is with God, in the new Jerusalem. That city is home. God is home. That’s where we belong. Accept the groanings of this life, but live in hope, because we have a confident assurance, that if we leave this earthly tent, we have a heavenly dwelling that will last forever. Amen.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

How do you overcome False Teachers in a Movement?

"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves." -2 Peter 2:1

Every church movement, every denomination has false teachers that they have to deal with. As Jesus taught, the wheat and the tares are growing together. Ravenous wolves, he predicted would rush into the flock. 

I've often wondered about different denominations of the body of Christ. Some have stayed on track over the hundreds of years of their existence. They still faithfully preach the gospel. Others have drifted into false teachings and currently reflect little to nothing of their original values.

What causes the drift? What causes a once proud denomination that faithfully taught the gospel to become something years later that hardly mentions the gospel? 

I recall when I lived in Chicago I would see churches in the depths of the city, positioned in such critical locations to spread the gospel, but instead they had gay pride flags on the doors and windows, and promoted secular social justice ideologies and universalism. The gospel wasn't even an issue to be mentioned. Instead of the church ministering to the city, the city had ministered to the church and converted it to secularism.

What causes the ELCA to drift away from it's own biblical teachings? What causes the United Methodist Church, a holiness movement church based around the teachings of John Wesley, to split over the issue of homosexuality? What causes Congregationalists and UCC and dozens of others to have gone from the most fundamental perspectives on scripture, to outright heresy? 

It reminds me of when Al Mohler took over as the Dean of the SBC seminary. The SBC, one of the most biblically conservative Christian movements was getting off track. Their seminary had been taken over by activist theologians promoting unbiblical ideas. But one man, Al Mohler took a stand. He cleared out the activists and extremists, and re-centered the seminary on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So I thought to myself, what's the difference? What will save denominations from ideological destruction, denominations that are wavering now, like the church of the Nazarene, or Wesleyans, or The Salvation Army, or a dozen other denominations fracturing over theological issues? 

It will take a small group or groups of biblically sound watchmen and watchwomen who are willing to stand up and say no to bad ideas. That's all it takes. When honorable men and women take a stand, faithfully, honestly, truthfully, without hatred or rage, but firmly, then the denomination will stand. 

They become a Gideon's army of sorts within the denomination. They speak up boldly, clearly, with love and truth, without hatred or rage, but firmly, and God is with them. They win the victory. They oppose the false teachers. And they pray. The false teachers can't stand against prayer. God moves in those prayers. And their defeat is certain. 

So I want to look at a few keys to victory in the battle against false teachers and unbiblical theology in your denominational movement. Follow these steps, and you will see victory rise from the ashes of defeat. 

1. Target the False Teacher with Specific Prayers - Don't skip past this one. This may be your single greatest asset. Begin praying for the false teacher, pray that God would give them every good thing in life. Pray for their health, pray for their family, pray for their goals, pray for blessings, not curses for them. Also pray that God would guide them away from false ideas, and toward the truth. But also pray that if they do not repent, that God would remove them from the movement. Pray and keep praying, then fast and pray. You'll be amazed at what happens, if you truly believe.

2. Organize with others in the Movement - Develop a network of heroes, start a Facebook group, or meet in person, to discuss the issues and concerns you notice. It's important for others to know they aren't alone. Encourage one another. Avoid forming a faction or spreading dissensions, instead emphasize loyalty to Jesus Christ, unity, and oneness with the current denominational structure as it exists now. Loyal members standing for truth, not a faction fighting against the whole. 

3. Work in the Chain of Command - If you notice concerns with false teachers at a seminary or at a particular church, alert leaders in your movement. They may not do anything about it. But at least the truth is where it belongs. Do be cautious, if your movement is way off, you may actually find yourself a target after reporting someone for false teachings. It's worth it though, because again, the truth is where it belongs. You did what you could. Now return to prayer. 

4. Go Directly to the Person - God may afford you opportunities to speak directly to that person and correct them. Do so gently, with wisdom and tact. They may not receive it or listen, but again, at least the truth is where it belongs. Approach them not as one looking to clobber them, or destroy them, but approach as a brother or sister in Christ who honestly wants to be helpful. Attitude is everything. Do it with honest love. It may feel more emotionally appealing to slam someone with the truth, but love is merciful and kind. 

5. Innovate Past the False Teachers - Sometimes we try to fight false teachers with anger and accusations and rumors and factions and rivalries, but this only causes the evil and strife and wickedness to grow stronger. We can't fight fire with fire. We are in fact told in scripture that evil cannot be overcome with evil.  As the word says, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."  Jesus didn't smash everyone surrounding him when he was on the cross. He died for them. That paradoxical love of enemy started the greatest revolution of biblical truth in world history. 

We can't overcome false teachers by yelling and screaming and spreading accusations. And the worst possible thing we could do, is become a "faction" that causes division and chaos in the movement. We've got to emphasize loyalty to the movement and an attitude of unity. God hates those who sow division (Proverb 6:19) so we've got to learn to walk that line VERY carefully. Speak up boldly, yet also be intensely loyal and particularly submissive to the leadership of the movement. 

We can overcome false teachers by spreading the gospel, teaching biblical truth, and praying vigorously. As revival grows from biblical heroes teaching biblical truth, hundreds and thousands will turn to Christ. The false teachers will look like mushrooms on logs compared to the bursting light and love and truth of thousands turning to Jesus Christ.  Innovate past them. Spread the gospel with such zeal and power that no one listens to the false teachers, they are too focused on the gospel movement growing up around them. 

In the end, God will judge false teachers. May we always pray that they repent honestly and return to their Lord and Savior. But in the meantime, we can't allow these people to destroy entire movements. They can't be allowed to lead entire denominations astray from the Master. It will take small gatherings of bold people seasoned with biblical love, to pray intentionally and stand firmly, but God-willing, they will win the day. It may seem impossible. It may seem like the denomination is too far gone. But God can do anything. Believe, and stand, and watch God do a miracle. Then again, maybe it is too late. Maybe the denomination is too far gone. But let it not be said that we didn't stand up, let it be said we went down fighting, letting the denomination fail only at the end of our greatest efforts in Christ to bring hope once again. 

Either way, God will reward those who are faithful to the end, who do not allow themselves to be seduced by worldly ideas and ear tickling reinterpretations of biblical truth. But we know the end for false teachers, as it is described in 2nd Peter chapter 2. 

2 Peter 2:17-21 "These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” 20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them."

Sunday, February 11, 2024

When God seems Distant: The Teacher is Silent during the Test

There have been a few times in my life when I felt God’s presence depart from me. And it was for the purpose of testing me, to see what decision I’ll make without his presence strong upon me. Don’t get me wrong, God was still with me in those times. He hadn’t left me or forsaken me. But, his presence, his influence, even his power in my life had departed temporarily, as I was being tempted, or going through a hard time. And I was left with what I’d learned from God to guide me.

That seems natural, as the old saying goes the teacher is always silent during the test.

James 1:12 ESV “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

During those times we want to pray, even if we don’t feel He is close. We want to read the word. We want to hold fast to God’s commands.

In our journey with God so far, we’re learning something Madam Guyon wrote, “You gradually recognize that prayer is the true way, the real way, of finding God. And once you have found Him, you proclaim joyfully, “His name is an ointment poured forth.” (Song of Solomon 1:3) -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 22

But we’re challenged by Jeanne Guyon that this journey will not be without difficulties and problems.

There was a man named Elijah who was a heroic servant of God. He was surrendered to God’s will for his life. He was bold, he was fearless. He confronted false teachers in his time, hundreds of them, and God worked mightily through his experience. He was an outcast in his time, hated by Israel’s leaders, feared by the people, and criticized constantly.

After Elijah’s greatest moment of victory over the false prophets of his time, Elijah was exhausted. He must’ve felt at those moments far off from God, tired, weak. And it was at that moment that Queen Jezebel sent a message to him that she would kill him for what he’d done.

It was too much for Elijah at that moment, Elijah ran for his life. He ran for days. God cared for him on the journey.

There will be times when we feel weak, when we feel far from God, even when it seems God has withdrawn from us. That’s the time when we want to cling to what we’ve been taught and stay true to our Master.

Then, after the test is through, the teacher comes over pleased that we’ve passed, we’ve walked through the flames, we’ve not been burned, and all is well.

Elijah ran for his life. But God was with him on the journey. He ministered to him, cared for his needs, fed him, and gave him rest. Then God revealed himself to Elijah on the mountain, in a still small voice.

We will have periods of dryness. We will face times when it feels like God is far off. We will face times when it’s hard to pray. We can learn in all this, to simply be OK with where we are at right at this moment.

We’re always longing for more, aren’t we? We want it to feel good. But it won’t always feel good.

As you seek to know God better, as you embrace this journey to really be intimate with God, it will ebb and flow.

Nothing in this life will ever be perfect in how we experience it. One day is a good day, the next isn’t as good. One day we feel deeply close with one of our friends, a few weeks later, we don’t feel as close. One day when we bike ride it’s perfect, glorious even, the next it’s just dismal and sad.

In a romantic relationship, some days we get along super well, other days we argue an disagree and feel miserable.

Accept in your walk with God that there will be times when you feel very close, and there will be other days when you feel far off. Don’t get discouraged.

“I would encourage you to have a believing heart from this point on. You must not be discouraged. There will be a little difficulty along the way as you seek to go into a deep relationship with the Lord.” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 22

It ebbs and it flows. But keep pushing toward God in the journey. But then as you push toward Him, and you sense Him near, cease striving, and simply enjoy His presence.

As Jeanne Guyon said, “What is the point? The point is this: There is a fire with you and it ebbs and grows. That fire, when it ebbs, must be gently fanned, but only gently. Just as soon as that fire begins to burn, again cease all your efforts. Otherwise, you might put out the flame.” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 23

Friends it’s like this in any goal we set for ourselves to achieve. There will be ups and downs. Allow God to develop in you a perseverance, where you don’t give up. You keep going.

Honestly I have a hard time with this sometimes. I get far too disappointed when things go wrong. I get far too disappointed when we have a poor turnout for dinner church or Sunday school or Bible study. But I’m slowly learning to take it in stride. I remember a roommate used to say something to me, he said his dad always said it to him. He would always say, “You gotta roll with the punches.”

What does that mean? I wasn’t sure for the longest time. I knew it meant to persevere through difficulties. To not give up. But apparently it comes from boxing. When you take punches to the face in boxing, which you certainly will even if you win, you’re supposed to allow your body, your head to move in the same direction the punch is going, and it lessons the blow you take, that slight movement makes it more bearable. So if you get punched from the front, you’d slide back slightly to lesson the blow.

Take the hit, lesson it, keep it outside yourself, don’t internalize it, and you can keep going without getting discouraged.

That’s why the bible tells us to “guard your heart.” We can’t let certain things into our hearts. They have to stay on the outside. And other things we have to let in, good things, like love, trust, and peace and friendship. But keep criticism out, keep anger out, keep hate from others out, don’t take it inside yourself. Keep it out.

Romans 5:3-5 ESV “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

A lot of this all goes back to the heart. Guard your heart. Keep your heart encouraged. And in prayer, always believe in your heart that God is there and will answer completely.

Jeanne Guyon said, “Praying with a believing heart is more important than anything else that has to do with prayer!” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p.23

We’ve got to believe, through and through, when we pray, that God is really here and really changing everything as a result of the prayer. God is real. God is good. God is answering. God has answered.

Lastly, I want to point us to the heart issue of the motive of the heart. As we seek to get to know God better and better, we want to examine our motive for doing so. Why are we doing this?

There are some common reasons, we love to experience God. We want to know God better. We want the sweetness of fellowship with Him. Those are all reasons we may have.

But Madam Guyon points us to a higher reason. She says, “Bring a heart that is seeking nothing from the Lord, but desires only to please Him and to do His will.” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 24

It reminds me of the parable that Jesus taught about the servants. From Luke 17:7-10 it says, “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” -Luke 17:7-10

Yes, we are God’s children through faith in Jesus. Yes we call God Father. Yes we call Jesus Lord and Savior. Yet in all that we must remember we are servants of God. So our chief desire as a servant of God should be to please Him and do what He tells us to do. Do His will.

Let’s review our key points from today:

1. If God seems to depart in a trial, it may be because we’re being tested

2. Spells of spiritual dryness occur, but we can know God remains with us

3. When tested, hold firm to the truths of God’s word

4. Take the hits in the spiritual trials, but don’t let discouragement sneak into your heart, stay focused on Christ

5. Guard your heart to develop perseverance 

6. Pray with a believing heart – believe God hears and does in fact answer

7. Develop the motive in your heart of simply wanting to be a servant of God

What is Biblical Love? How to Walk in the Way of Love

Dave Simmons shared in his book about being a dad a time when he and his two kids went to a mall, and the mall had a petting zoo there. He had given each of his children, Brandon and Helen a quarter to enter, and then went to continue shopping. Soon he saw his daughter hadn’t gone in. He went to ask her why.

She said sadly, "Well, Daddy, it cost fifty cents. So, I gave Brandon my quarter." Then she said the most beautiful thing I ever heard. She repeated the family motto. The family motto is in "Love is Action!"

She had given Brandon her quarter, and no one loves cuddly furry creatures more than Helen.

What do you think I did? Well, not what you might think. As soon as I finished my errands, I took Helen to the petting zoo. We stood by the fence and watched Brandon go crazy petting and feeding the animals. Helen stood with her hands and chin resting on the fence and just watched Brandon. I had fifty cents burning a hole in my pocket; I never offered it to Helen, and she never asked for it.

Because she knew the whole family motto. It's not "Love is Action." It's "Love is SACRIFICIAL Action!" Love always pays a price. Love always costs something. Love is expensive. When you love, benefits accrue to another's account. Love is for you, not for me. Love gives; it doesn't grab. Helen gave her quarter to Brandon and wanted to follow through with her lesson. She knew she had to taste the sacrifice. She wanted to experience that total family motto. Love is sacrificial action.”
-Dave Simmons, Dad, The Family Coach, Victor Books, 1991, pp. 123-124.

Today we’re talking love in the context of the Bible, referred to in the classic chapter from 1st Corinthians 13. But it’s super important that we understand that love is like Dave Simmons indicates, a sacrificial action.

It’s not a feeling. It’s not something we do when we feel like it. It’s a mindset of service to others. And let’s be very clear, we pay a price when we love. We give something. It’s not about receiving. It’s about giving.

The Apostle Paul is writing to a community that has a lot of knowledge. And he is reminding them that love has to be first as a Christian.

But what is love exactly? That’s what we’re going to be examining today. 

But I think as Americans we assume love is “niceness.” The American 1st Corinthians 13 is: "Love is niceness. Love does not make waves. Love does not disagree. Love always affirms. Love goes along to get along. Love accepts everything. Love never judges. Love says anything to make someone feel good. Love never points out a wrong. Love seeks the security of self, rather than the benefit of the other. Niceness never confronts, never disturbs, never speaks a hard truth. Niceness says, "you do you."

But that is not biblical love. That kind of love is not love at all, but niceness. And niceness isn’t actually really loving. Niceness wants to be liked. Niceness doesn’t want to have to call someone out on something bad they’re doing. Niceness is just letting someone float on down the river toward hell without saying a word. Niceness is more about wanting to be liked. It’s selfish. And niceness isn’t what we go for as Christians. We go for sacrificial agape love.

Jesus modeled perfect love for us, by dying for his enemies, dying for people who rejected him, in the hope they would one day receive the forgiveness he offered.

Love says, “Father forgive them they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Love says, “I do not condemn you.”

Yet Love also says, “Go and sin no more.”

And Love also says, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Love also says, “If your hand causes you to sin cut it off, because it’s better for you to lose your hand than to go with both hands into the everlasting fire.”

Biblical love is willing to say a hard truth to someone in love, knowing that we may lose the friendship, but loving their soul more than their companionship. That’s real love. Niceness is a joke and a sham, compared to the glory of agape love.

It says in 1st Cor 13:1-3, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

We can do a lot of great things with our spiritual gifts, but if we don’t honestly love people, it won’t matter. Our message will be ugly if it doesn’t come with love. Have you ever known a Christian who had a lot of giftings and knowledge but didn’t have love? The message is toxic. It’s dead. It drives people away.

So we come to our structure of faith for today, which is the heart shape. And in the depiction of love in 1st Corinthians 13, we’re going to see categories, first, character traits that are loving. And character traits that are not loving. So we get a list of things to do, and a list of things not to do. Pretty simple.

Let’s dive in. First, in verse 4, “Love is patient.”

Now I know this scripture is often used in association with romantic relationships, but the context is actually speaking about loving your neighbor. I think we can also apply it to loving God as well.

Love is patient. How is your patience? Are you patient with someone who you are trying to win to Christ? Are you patient with friends and family? Patience is waiting on God. Patience is listening to someone when they’re talking.

We want to add this characteristic to ourselves, in the heart. How? Pray and ask God for patience. Then learn to practice patience. Sometimes it’s helpful to speak the word, “I’m going to be patient in this situation.” Just remind yourself of that.

Next, second part of verse 4, “Love is kind.”

What is kindness? I like the 1828 Webster’s dictionary definition for kindness, it says, “Good will; benevolence; that temper or disposition which delights in contributing to the happiness of others, which is exercised cheerfully in gratifying their wishes, supplying their wants or alleviating their distresses.”

Delighting in contributing to the happiness of others. As my grandma Monica always said, “It’s nice to be nice.” Niceness isn’t always bad either, as long as it’s seen as part of a bigger whole of what it means to be loving.

Does it make you glad to contribute to help someone else? I know it does for me. That’s part of love.

Next, third part of verse 4, “It does not envy.”

Envy appears outside the heart shape, to remind us, this is something we want to avoid. What is envy? Being envious is seeing someone who has a nice car, nice house, nice watch, nice smartphone, and instead of being happy for them, we envy them, we want what they have. We get envious, jealous, angry that they have something we don’t.

Envy is a nasty emotion. We want to pray if we struggle with envy, ask God to help us with that. Put off envy. Replace it with gratitude for what we do have.

Many envy the rich in our country, want to get their money for themselves, that’s not wisdom. Be grateful for what you do have.

Next, still verse 4, “it does not boast.”

We also want to avoid bragging. I did this, I did that, I’m so great, look at me.

I remember at my Grandma Bernie’s funeral, all of these people kept coming forward talking about how Grandpa had mentored them, how he had prayed with them, given them something, led them to the Lord, and Grandpa had never told anyone about all those things he did.

That’s how we should be. We should not be bragging, look at what my ministry did. Look at all these people we helped. Look at how close to God I am. That isn’t helpful to anyone. We do want to shine our light. But we don’t want to brag about how great we are. That’s filthy before God.

Next, similar to boasting, “It is not proud.” Pride is thinking highly of ourselves. Pride is thinking how great we are at what we do. Pride is looking at ourselves constantly and being impressed. Lord save us from pride! Pride is what caused the angels to fall and become demons. Pride leads ministers and great Christians astray, thinking they are something, thinking they are great. Replace pride with humility. Stay humble. Know you are merely a servant of God, nothing more.

Next in verse 5, ‘it does not dishonor others.”

In the original Greek of this phrase, aschēmoneō, it means to “prepare disgrace for someone.” It’s like setting someone up to look stupid or setting someone up to be criticized. I see this in social groups all the time, one of the guys tries to make the other guy look stupid, tries to manipulate the conversation to make the other guy look bad, and make himself look good.

Biblical love of course doesn’t set others up for failure or try to push others down to promote ourselves or make ourselves look good. Guard against that.

Next, still verse 5, “it is not self-seeking.” What a great phrase, self seeking is talked about a lot in 12 step fellowship groups. It’s the concept of taking your own selfish desires and pushing your own way in every situation. It’s very ugly. Self-will run riot is a great phrase that describes that.

Being self-seeking is something we want to avoid. We should instead seek God’s will for our lives. Not what we want.

Next, “it is not easily angered.” Love is not easily angered. Do you have a bad temper? Do you get angry too quickly? I know it’s something I had to fight in the past. And a lot of the time it had to be with a deeply rooted insecurity in me. So if you’re struggling with anger, find out what’s underneath the anger.

Is it a bad memory? Is it a way you were mistreated in the past? Sit down and talk about what the feeling is connected to. Let it out. Heal from the pain. And next time, the anger won’t be as strong.

Next, “it keeps no record of wrongs.” How often do we see this in romantic relationships or friendships? One person keeps a record of every wrong thing that was done by the other. Then the other person brings up the record they have of the other person. We’ve got to get rid of these records, forgive each other, and move forward.

Then again, if you do notice a pattern of mistreatment or abuse, you should recognize that and deal with it with the other person. But once it’s been dealt with, let go of the record. Don’t keep bringing it up. We’ve got to forgive those hurts, and move forward.

And then it says, verse 6, part 1, “Love does not delight in evil.” This is one of those aspects of love that distinguish it from niceness.

Niceness says oh I love you just the way you are. Love says, I love you my friend but I notice something in your life isn’t right, God can help you be free from that sin. Niceness just says oh you do you. Do whatever you like. Love says what you’re doing my dear friend isn’t right, God has something better for you then that. Notice niceness just goes along to get along, it just wants to be liked, love brings up a hard truth to help the person, but in so doing, they risk the relationship. It’s sacrificial.

Love doesn’t delight in evil, it can’t.

So we see here the first eight aspects of what it means to not be loving, and the first two aspects of what it means to be loving.

Paul is now going to get into the remaining six characteristics of a loving person.

Next, so love does not delight in evil, but, it rejoices with the truth.

What does it mean to rejoice with the truth? It’s as simple as hearing something at Bible study or at morning church and you say, “Amen!” Because the Holy Spirit in you rejoices and says, “that’s true!” I love the truth so much. And I hate lies. We will rejoice in truth in the way of love. And lies and evil will make us sick.

Next, love always protects. The word here is rendered by some translations as bears. The Greek word gives the picture of someone setting aside slights and disagreements and problems and arguments, covering over those things, and instead focusing on the good.

That’s something I think we’re good at, seeing the good in others, looking for the good things, and papering over the bad.

When I have a disagreement with a loved one, family, with my fiancée, or a friend, I will tend to try and overlook it, ignore it, focus on the things I love about them. Let’s try to do that too, when others hurt us, cover over the bad, focus on the good. Bear up in difficulties. Anyone in a marriage knows that we have to bear up with the faults of our loved ones.

Notice the word “always” is appearing. It gives us a picture of constantly repeatedly over time, repeating the character trait. Repeat it, repeat it again. Repeat the good thing.

“it always trusts.” For our relationship God we want to “always trust.” For our relationship with friends and family, we want to “always trust.” Does that mean that we trust a stranger necessarily? No I don’t think so. But we do trust that God’s word can do something in their lives. Always trust I think primarily is a mindset of being a trusting person who trusts God and trusts others, and isn’t prone to bitter mistrust.

Next, Love always hopes. A characteristic of being a loving person is being hopeful. Hopeful for the other. Hopeful for the future. Hopeful for the promises of God. Hopeful in general.

I know that’s hard for many of us here who have been through many hardships and have mental and physical health issues, but we can obey this to always be hopeful. Don’t be a pessimistic, don’t be a negative person, cultivate hope.

That may take healing for some of us here, to foster. I confess I battle bitterness, negativity. But God is helping me. I pray about it, and he helps.

Next, love always perseveres. Love doesn’t give up. Love keeps going. Love stands the test. Love continues through the difficulties. Don’t give up friends.

And the eighth characteristic of love is that love never fails. Does that mean we never make a mistake? No. Love never fails means that love doesn’t fall to the ground, love doesn’t end up powerless. Love will continue always in our hearts, if we are living out these principles of what it means to be loving. The result will be, love never fails. But it’s also an attribute. It’s believing that love will not die out. Love will continue.

Next in verses 8-12 the Apostle Paul reinterates that love is the most important of all the giftings of the Spirit. It says, “8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Then in verse 13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

When all the giftings fade in the next life, love remains as the greatest truth.

I think the first part of 1st Corinthians 14:1 tells us what all this means.

It says, “Walk in, or “Follow the way of love.” -1 Cor 14:1

So, if we are in fact putting off the eight negative characteristics that we want to avoid, and putting on the 8 positive characteristics of love, we will then be fulfilling the command in scripture which says to “follow the way of love.”

This is the way of love.

Last slide, the white arrows represent the actions of the Holy Spirit we take in cooperation with the Spirit, we actively put off the old ways, the anti-love ways. And then the Holy Spirit also helps us to put on the new ways of love which come from above, from God.

To Review:

1. Put off pridefulness, bragging, being easily angered, & Envy

2. Put off Dishonoring others & keeping a record of wrongs

3. Put off self seeking, & delighting in evil

4. Put on patience and kindness

5. Put on rejoicing in the truth

6. Put on Protectiveness, Hope, Perseverance, and Trusting

7. Believe that Love Never Fails

8. In all this, believe you can & will walk in the way of love

Monday, February 5, 2024

12 Keys to the Kingdom of God System

How does the Kingdom of God system work? The Lord Jesus taught one main message while he walked the Earth: The Kingdom of God. He taught it through parables. So if we look at the parables, and try to fit them together, we can find the basic instructions for how to live in God's world system. God's system is radically different from the world system, so we may find ourselves surprised by the paradoxes of the system.

These twelve principles are an extension of another post that dealt with an original twelve principles. For the original list of 12, Click here.

1. It Starts Small - Mustard Seed Parable (Matthew 13:31-32) - The Kingdom of God system begins very small, a person is born again and they are a new Christian. They've been declared righteous in Christ, but a long journey of growth (sanctification) is just beginning. Over the years the kingdom grows and grows within them, and they go from a tiny mustard seed, to a large and mighty tree.

2. Shine brightly - (but don't show off) - Parable of the Lamp (Mark 4:21-25) - The Kingdom of God system requires members to shine brightly before the world as an example of faith and why it's good. We don't hide our beliefs, or refuse to speak for fear of making waves or offending someone. We speak. However, we are also told not to act like the Pharisees who did things to be seen by others. They wanted to feel important. They wanted to be well thought of. We're told to strike a careful balance of shining for Christ, but not doing it for selfish reasons.

3. Examine Yourself First - Speck and Log (Matthew 7:3-5) - the parable of the speck and the log tells us that we naturally look at others and judge them. But it's different in God's kingdom. in God's kingdom we're told to look at ourselves first, and deal with sins in us, and then we can help others to find freedom from sins as well. 

4. Spread the Seed Everywhere - Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23) - Our attitude in sharing the gospel should be to spread the seed far and wide. Depending on the condition of each heart receiving it, they may receive it gladly, then fall away, or reject it, or it may get crowded out by the ways of the world, but some will receive it and produce their own harvests in Christ. We may be surprised by who rejects the message, and even more surprised by those who receive it gladly. Allow God to surprise you. 

5. Hypocrites in the Kingdom - Weeds among the Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30) - in the kingdom we will encounter people who seem to be in the kingdom but are not living out what it means to be a Christian. We should not trouble ourselves in trying to sort out whose saved and who isn't. We may mislabel someone who is a new believer as a hypocrite, or a hypocrite as a true follower. The weeds and the wheat are growing together, and Jesus will sort out each grouping when he returns (Parable of the Net) (Matthew 13:47-50).

6. You can Start at any Age - Parable of Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) - For the kingdom of God, it's best to start from birth, being raised up in Christ, but, even if you join in when you're fifteen, or twenty-five, or forty, or seventy, you are welcome, and you will be rewarded for your labor. 

7. Whosoever is Welcome - Parable of the Marriage Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) - Those invited to God's kingdom had at first been the nation of Israel, but now it's gone out to the whosoever. Wealth, class, ability, lack of ability, race, gender, it doesn't matter, the kingdom of God is open to anyone who is willing to come and participate in accordance with the rules of the system. 

8. Using your Kingdom Talents - The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) - every saint born into the kingdom of God is given certain talents and abilities to be used to help and bless God's family. If you don't use them, you'll be held accountable. If you do use them, you'll be rewarded. This is also depicted in the parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). Kingdom saints should be consistently producing fruit, if not the Father will correct us, see also the vine and the branches (John 15:1-17). 

9. Reward in Heaven - the Parable of the Invited Guests (Luke 14:7-11) - We're told to serve others who can't repay us in God's kingdom, then we'll be rewarded in the next life. Otherwise the people we help will repay us and we receive no reward. Having the most important seat at the party isn't important, but instead it's best to serve others humbly who can't give back. In God's kingdom things are often reversed, the first are last, and the last are first. The greatest is the servant of all. The servant of none is the lowest of all. 

10. Sin comes from Within - Parable of the Heart of Man (Mark 7:14-23) - In general things that go into us, food or drink, or things outside of us aren't the main cause of sin. In the Kingdom of God we understand sin comes from our hearts, the things we think, the temptations we battle. Don't look at externals, look within, and ask God to bring change in your heart. Don't allow anyone to claim victimhood to external circumstances. The heart is the issue, and God can change the heart to produce good things in Christ. 

11. Tough Times and Problems - Parable of Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) - Christians will often face harder times than those of the world. They go through many trials in God's kingdom to test and refine their faith. Christians may have to die for their faith. They face persecution. Meanwhile the selfish and self-interested seem to get rich and live long lives of luxury. But in the next life, God sorts things out. The rich man had everything in his earthly life, but hell in the next. Lazarus had nothing in his earthly life, but heaven in the next. 

12. Bold Access to the Throne - Parable of the Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5-13) - Kingdom saints have an intensely personal access to God. Kingdom saints should use that access to it's fullest extent. Come boldly before God again and again, boldly asking for assistance, and God brings justice and mercy. You can apply the same principle to other Christians, come to them boldly for assistance. By your audacity, they may just give you what you need. 

Closing Challenge

I would challenge you: Examine the parables of Jesus one by one, and begin to fit the puzzle pieces together of how the Kingdom of God system practically works. If we understand the rules of the system, we can live and walk in accordance with the system God has designed. If we walk in accordance with that system, we can walk in deep relationship with God, living out His commands and loving Him and our neighbors just the way God wants us to! What a great challenge, but what a great adventure!